Transference: A Love Story

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 04/10/21 06:53:26

"The Heart Wants What The Heart(less) Wants?"
3 stars (Average)

Sex and love are so often confused in everyday courtship that any attempt to put a definition on them is usually the catalyst to neither existing in the future of a relationship. One can certainly turn into the other – from both directions – that the fantasy of such a happy ending through various definitions is what has us reaching for the simplicity of a movie romance. Raffaello Degruttola’s Transference starts off on the uneasy path between the two and does not make things much easier, but after a promising start also has trouble defining its two lovers in the high stakes world of emotional acceptance.

Katerina (Emilie Sofie Johannesen) is a young nurse in London. She is a Norwegian immigrant who lives with a roommate, Camilla (Pernille Broch), and as one day at work begins she receives a new patient who is dying of lung cancer. Both, in their own way, choose not to confront the patient’s fate and form a quick bond. Unfortunately, that is short lived, as she passes away soon after. This seems to open up a wanting in Katerina to live her life more freely, something she has been getting goaded into by people around her. Particularly another male nurse who is basically this hospital’s equivalent of Scrubs’ Todd minus the moves and banana hammock. But then she meets Nik.

Nik (played by writer/director Degruttola) also works at the hospital. He is older (at least as defined by his graying beard) but Katerina sees a soft kindness to him as well as someone to explore her feminine wiles with. After giving her a ride home one night on his motorcycle, she invites him in and puts the moves on him. He is mysteriously hesitant but ultimately succumbs and it turns into more than just a single evening. As Nik becomes more confident in their building relationship, Katerina begins to pull away. It is here where the film faces a crossroads on whether to explore a more complicated dynamic or delve into cliched theatrics about scorned lovers and toxicity. Except the film is not sure which way to pull and it becomes more frustrating waiting on it to make a decision.

The early scenes of Transference standout because we see the evolving nature of a character in front of us. Though a Simone Weil quote which opens the film is probably far more forboding than the film needs, the ability of Katerina to search for personal happiness, if only fleeting, in a world filled with disappointment and tragedy is a positive arc to follow. Plus it is a refreshing one to see the woman taking charge in the moment and Johannesen is very good in these early scenes, even if her performance is somewhat betrayed by her own thoughts. The insistence of giving Katerina narration in these moments really undercuts the eventual enigma of her feelings with broad flashes like “I hated rollercoasters as a child but I was on the most exciting ride ever…without being able to strap in.” Thanks for the clarification.

Nik is far more of a cipher and purposefully so. Is he just quiet and cautious or masking a more dangerous personality? Things are hinted at more with peripheral characters such as ex-wife (Lotte Verbeek in a nice, tender scene) and through Degruttola the director. As actor he leans closer to a Seinfeld-esque low-talker than what with demons he is trying to keep at bay. But as more is drawn out of him later in the film, it almost feels more personal for the artist given Katerina’s shift towards distance. You get the sense watching these two characters as written that Degruttola expects that men with empathize with him and women will find ways to defend her insecurities. A final life-goes-on moment is fraught with far more questions given Nik’s previous relationship. On a singular level, Transference could be taking its title as a projection onto the audience of how their human hearts may never know what it truly wants. But they may also choose not to care about movie characters who also seem to have something or someone else to blame for the absence of their own happiness either.

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